Let’s get Sideways out of the way. It’s not Paul Giamatti’s or Thomas Haden Church’s (the two stars of Sideways) fault that this movie sort of ruined California Pinot Noir for a lot of people. It launched a Pinot craze that still hasn’t wilted and, in doing so, brought a lot of crappy domestic Pinot Noir into the market, since many winemakers shifted their focus to cash in on the Pinot fad. Still, this is one of the best wine movies of all time, filled with great scenery from the Santa Ynez Valley and loaded with good wines, including Whitcraft Pinot Noir, Sea Smoke Pinot Noir, Kistler Chardonnay, Cheval Blanc and many more. You’ve probably seen it already. If not, don’t waste any more time: go Sideways.
Another of my favorites is Blood into Wine, not to be confused with a forgettable wine movie starring Jack Nicholson called Blood and Wine. This is a really fascinating film about rock star Maynard James Keenan— Tool, Puscifer, A Perfect Circle —and his foray into winemaking. And, not just winemaking, but winemaking in Arizona, of all places. He owns Merkin Vineyards and Caduceus Cellars, southwest of Sedona. But this isn’t just a story about a rich guy who buys a winery. It’s about a rich guy who puts his heart and soul into learning about wine and winemaking. It’s much more than merely a hobby to Maynard. In the process, the viewer learns more about the challenges and techniques of making wine than in any other movie I can think of. It’s also highly entertaining, thanks to Keenan’s self-deprecating humor and sarcasm.
In A Good Year, based on the book by Peter Mayle, Russell Crowe is a Brit banker (Max) who unexpectedly inherits a Provençal vineyard and chateau from his uncle Henry, played by Albert Finney. Slowly but surely (and a bit predictably), his urban ways succumb to a more laidback French country lifestyle, filled with local wines and food and, of course, petanque. This is a great show to sip a humble French country wine with.
Wine writer Matt Kramer, in a piece called “Wine Hokum,” skewers the movie Mondovino, calling it “pure agitprop” and “a willfully deceitful piece of antiglobalist propaganda of the heavy-handed sort unseen since Greenpeace started filming the bludgeoning of baby seals.” But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it. Yes, the movie is heavy-handed. It posits the thesis that, largely due to wine critic Robert Parker’s personal tastes and power, winemakers worldwide have taken to making big, deep, oak-aged Bordeaux-style wines, leaving many more interesting and unique wines in the dust and turning winemakers into cookie cutters. You decide.
Bottle Shock is a very good and (mostly) historically accurate movie about what’s come to be known as the Judgement of Paris—a 1976 wine tasting which pitted French Chardonnays and Cabernets against California’s. And, in a result that shocked the wine world, the unthinkable happened: A Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena finished first among the white wines and Stag’s Leap Cabernet won amongst the reds, going up against some of France’s most distinguished wines. I suggest watching Bottle Shock with bottles of Chateau Montelena and Stag’s Leap by your side.